Thursday, February 20, 2020

THE HOLDEN BLAME GAME by John Crawford

In my own analyses in ‘Driving & Life’ of the reasons behind GM’s shock closure and abandonment of the Holden brand I have focussed on the corporate decisions which hastened its demise.

However, writing today in Australia’s national broadsheet, The Australian, respected business commentator and analyst Robert Gottliebsen stresses the part which greedy unions played in the Brand’s demise. In fact the behaviour of unions in the Australian automotive sector, mirrors that in the USA over decades.

Gottliebsen points out that it was the unions which ‘controlled’ the factory floor, and successive Holden CEO’s appointed by GM in Detroit, were either powerless, or too timid to actually make a stand.

Whilst I lived and worked in the USA I watched from the sidelines as the same pattern emerged.

Every two years the unions would bargain a new deal for their members, and the companies simply gave in to their demands.

Which I think is akin to kicking the can a few more metres down the road.

In Australia, the behaviour of the unions was a material element of the slow death of car manufacturing.

The other was the plethora of various taxes and duties which successive governments saddled the car industry with; and then there was a stronger Australian dollar, at a time when GM had attempted to import Australian-built Commodores (under both the Pontiac and Chevrolet badges) into the USA.

As my good friend Bob Lutz has pointed out, the export/import deals were conceived when the Australian dollar was lower against the Greenback.

However, by the time it came to produce, export and invoice GM for the Australian-sourced cars, the Oz dollar had strengthened, meaning much lower profit margins for General Motors. The cars were priced too high and neither deal lasted long.

Everyone who drove the Aussie-built G8 Pontiac agreed it was a helluva car, especialy the 1,832 lucky buyers who managed to snag one.




Then we come to Government subsidies. For years, both Ford and GM, threatened governments of all political colour that if they did not get their subsidies they would pull out of Australia. Governments, of course, capitulated. None of them wanted the bad press, or bad PR of putting thousands of Aussie workers out of a job.

None more so than when Labor was in power, and left-leaning (meaning union intimidated) Minister for Industry, Senator Kim Carr (right) was in charge of doling out taxpayers' dollars to the car companies.

Yes, hindsight is 20-20 vision, but although I only began publishing ‘Driving & Life’ in 2010, I had been warning my friends in the US and Australian media since 2002, that the problems of maintaining the Australian car manufacturing industry had begun before the turn of the century.

I have already highlighted the fact that both Holden and Ford pressed on making cars that would be out-of-date by the middle of the noughties. They were benchmark cars, but the market had moved on.


No attempt was made to re-arrange their product catalogues.

The Japanese and Korean companies managed to see the writing on the wall, and fed into Australia products that actually resonated with shifting consumer preferences.

I was always against subsidies and handouts. Australia needed to maintain the intent of previous Labor Treasurer and later Prime Minister, Paul Keating, and ensure that Australia was free of duties and onerous taxes; the dollar floated on global exchanges; and the elimination of subsidies, which insulated companies against real market pressures.

I have always maintained that in a capital-driven business environment, the market should rule, and the uncompetitive companies should close-up if they can't compete.

The Australian automotive unions for their part should have seen the coming changes, and begun to agitate for expansion of training facilities, such as TAFE or trade schools, to ensure their members utilised a wider range of skills. However, we all know that once the union fatcats were banking their huge pay checks every week, they weren’t about to rock the boat.

Yes, it’s a tragedy that Holden will disappear from our social and automotive landscape, but I could see the potential for it to happen, more than 15 years ago, and as I have outlined – there is plenty of blame to go around. How's this for irony?



John Crawford

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

DOES RIDE-SHARING EASE TRAFFIC CHAOS? NO, EMPHATICALLY, NO! by John Crawford

So, when we welcomed Uber and Lyft into our lives, the idea was that ride-sharing would reduce traffic congestion.



Now, four studies – three in the USA and one in India – reveal the complete opposite. All four studies found that traffic congestion had increased since the disrupters entered the scene.

In the USA, researchers found that people don’t actually ‘ride-share’ – most riders travel alone.

Also, they prefer Uber/Lyft to public transport, so early passenger stats reveal that subway use has dropped – perhaps imperceptibly at this stage.

The Indian study in Mumbai (below) found ride-hailing services actually increased traffic congestion:



"This finding is evidenced by shorter traffic delays when Ola and Uber are off the roads during ride-sharing strikes."

Traffic delays were reduced by almost 7% in Mumbai and close to 5% in Delhi, which the researchers call "highly statistically significant."

In Austin, Texas, when new usage charges were introduced, cutting the number of Uber/Lyft vehicles in use, traffic speeds increased by 3.4%.

There's real common sense logic behind these findings. You imagine a retired guy who wants to earn a few bucks, or a non-working woman at home with some time on her hands. They decide to be Uber drivers, and you can increase the number of additional cars on the road by any number of multiples, and ergo, traffic chaos reigns.

These findings suggest again that you should be careful what you wish for. 

Outrageous claims about reduction in traffic congestion were touted by all the ride-sharing services, but in actuality the reverse has been the case. It also suggests you continue to take everything the Greens tell you is a 'silver bullet' to solve the world's problems with a grain of salt.

John Crawford

FORD AUSTRALIA - PREDATOR ON THE SIDELINES by John Crawford

As it watches its major rival squirm in the media spotlight, after GM’s decision to completely obliterate the Holden brand by the end of 2021, Ford Australia admits it is looking at some of the great Aussie talent which will be released by Holden, when GM closes its Melbourne design studio, and Lang Lang proving ground.

Ford Australia President and CEO Kay Hart said: “I’m sure there is some great talent in that Holden team. We would definitely be looking for that skill set that would fit with us here, and there well may be opportunities for that team to join Ford in the future.”

Her comments come as Ford says it will commit AUD$500 million to its Australian operation in 2020, and is likely to hire more staff, to add to its existing 2000 employees.

As doomsayers predicted the end of the locally-manufactured Ford Falcon a few years ago, there was doubt that Ford could survive in Australia with its imported vehicles.

Its sedan cars were not setting the market alight with excitement, but Ford Australia’s survival came from within its own Australian operations. It was the Ford Ranger truck!

Just like the USA and UK, the Australian market (almost overnight) has turned from loving cars, to embracing SUVs and trucks, and Ranger parachuted in to save Ford Australia.

Wholly-designed and developed in Australia, during Falcon’s deathroes, the introduction of the Ranger was actually part of a wider plan utilising the higly-skilled Australian design and production engineering division to simply deliver an updated truck which Ford could sell in developing markets.

Ranger was never part of some grand, sophisticated and well-researched plan to save Ford Australia. That happened entirely by accident.

Ford, like Holden, also had a revolving-door of middling, to talent-less chief executives pass through the ‘glasshouse’ at Broadmeadows. None of them were enlightened enough to see a grand future for Ford Australia.


Also, they were also powerless to stop the rusted-on cadre of ‘Falcon Forever’ stalwarts who refused to see the writing on the wall for their beloved mid-sized sedan.

As the market churned and changed, Toyota’s top-selling vehicle in Australia the Corolla hatchback, was supplanted by the Toyota Hilux truck in its various guises, plus Toyota's increasingly popular Kluger SUV.


Also, as SUV sales gathered pace, Ford had willingly retired probably its most potent weapon in that segment, the Ford Territory, which most 'real' experts agree was a world-class vehicle which failed to sell in big numbers through lack of marketing.

It was a benchmark vehicle, wholly-created in Australia by an Australian team based on the Falcon platform, and powered by the Falcon petrol engine, plus a diesel variant using the Peugeot-designed diesel V6.

At least Ford had a batch of new small/compact/large SUVs waiting in the wings.


Almost overnight, struggling Ford Australia, which couldn’t remember the last time it posted a ‘real’ profit was looking good. Forget Falcon, that was ‘old Ford’.

What about all the Ranger variants, and small/compact/large SUVs which began arriving as Ranger caught on with the buyers?

That was another accident of good timing, so don’t laud Ford’s senior management – once again, it was the market that saved the company, not enlightened vision in the executives suites – either in Broadmeadows or Dearborn.

And let’s not forget Ford’s happiest ‘accident’ yet – The Ford Mustang. Selling its pants off, and definitely another nail in Holden’s coffin!


I’m betting the Ford suits still employed by Ford Australia, simply breathed a collective sigh of relief when things turned around, and set about releasing more and more sexy versions of the Ranger, which is now hot on the heels of Toyota’s Hilux.

John Crawford

Monday, February 17, 2020

CARLOS GHOSN COLLIDES WITH JAPANESE CULTURE. AGAIN! by John Crawford

Never. Never, get between the Japanese culture, and ‘Loss of Face’.

The nation considers itself a ‘Samurai Culture’ and even your most humble Japanese public servant, or clerk at Nissan, considers themselves a Samurai at heart.

What do you think drove perfectly intelligent pilots to wilfully commit Hari Kiri during WW2 to become Kamikaze and crash their planes into American warships? They were sacrificing their lives to their country and their culture.

And so we come to Nissan’s court case to claim $91 million from Carlos Ghosn, for the ‘humiliation, loss of revenue and fraudulent activity’.

This is nothing more than Nissan and the justice system attempting to put a brave face on the fact that Ghosn, skipped custody, escaped the vicious Japanese justice system, and fled the prospect of being kept under house arrest for years, if not a decade – and punishing the man who (in their eyes) brought shame on the company (which he saved from disappearing into oblivion).

Hiroto Saikawa
This court case is going nowhere. It’s a display of ‘samurai justice’, to avoid ‘Loss of Face’ – a most serious consequence for Japanese culture.

And the person, perhaps unwittingly, driving this pursuit of Ghosn is the now-disgraced former CEO of Nissan, Hiroto Saikawa.

The fact that the rest of the educated and knowledgeable world outside Japan knows and understands this fault-line in the Japanese culture, does not seem to dissuade them from ‘trying it on’. Yes, they live in 'a bubble'.

I’m sure they know this court case is futile, but the Japanese have to do something to bring dishonour on the man who ‘shamed them’.

John Crawford

IT'S OFFICIAL - HOLDEN JUST DIED! by John Crawford

No fanfare; not even a mournful ‘Last Post’; no wake; just a press release:

General Motors announced today in Detroit  that it would wind down sales, design and engineering operations in Australia and New Zealand and retire the Holden brand by 2021. 

"I've often said that we will do the right thing, even when it's hard, and this is one of those times," said GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra (right). 

"We are restructuring our international operations, focusing on markets where we have the right strategies to drive robust returns, and prioritizing global investments that will drive growth in the future of mobility, especially in the areas of EVs and AVs.”


So, that’s it. Holden is dead and gone.



After 72 years the umbilical cord to Detroit has been severed and with it all the remaining jobs, and the dealer network. Even the much-revered Holden Design Studio in Melbourne, and even the fantastic proving ground at Lang Lang southeast of Melbourne.

Aussie icons: Holden (gone); Sydney Opera House; Sydney Harbour Bridge (survivors)
Also gone are GM’s assembly plants in Thailand and India, plus a restructuring of operations in Korea. Years ago, I wrote about Chair Mary Barra leading a retreat back to Fortress America – abandoning brands, investments, workers and facilities in order to ensure General Motors traded profitably, and more important from its point of view, so it could retain the ability to direct its resources into future vehicles like EVs and AVs.

The announcement was much more far-reaching than even I expected. I thought the Design Studio and Lang Lang would survive, as countless suits at GM, including President Mark Reuss said, ad nauseum, how important these two GM outposts were to the core of the corporation’s design and engineering future.

Mysteriously, the words coming out of Detroit spoke of working with ‘its partner’ to develop the GM range of ‘specialty vehicles’. So, I’m guessing GM could sign up for a distribution agreement with a company like Inchcape, to distribute the Chevy Camaro and Corvette, plus the Chevy SUVs and the Buick Acadia. I mean, there’s obviously a market for rev heads and mud pluggers with families, so why not take advantage of it.

Although, as my industry 'conscience', Wayne Webster pointed out the statement also referenced pulling out of all RHD markets. So I guess that probably does mean no Corvette C8s and Camaros for Oz.

No, I am not surprised. My view was that it was a case of ‘when’, not ‘if’. I am, however, surprised how deep the cuts go.

GM says it is budgeting for USD$1.1 billion plus to sever its connection with the dealer network and the remaining Holden offices and staff.

Valé Holden. Rest In Peace. It’s been good to know you.

John Crawford

Thursday, February 13, 2020

TRACING TROUBLED PATHS by John Crawford

ASTON MARTIN’S ROCKY ROAD

In 2000, when my friend Ulrich Bez (below) revealed he was going to become CEO of Aston Martin (then owned by Ford Motor), I wished him luck. My long experience in the luxury vehicle market told me that small, independent car makers constantly struggled to maintain viability, market share, revenues and, subsequently, profits.

By 2003 Ulrich Bez had driven the introduction of the Vantage coupe; a new Corporate headquarters and manufacturing facility at Gaydon; and launched the DB9, replacing the ten year old DB7.





Aston Martin DB9
At Pebble Beach in 2006, Dr. Bez told me of his plans to ‘buy’ the company from Ford’s Premier Automotive Group. Later it was revealed that the consortium backing Bez was led by Prodrive’s David Richards, plus Kuwaiti investment group INVESTMENT DAR (which would hold 50%); the balance taken up by Kuwait-based ADEEM INVESTMENT, and American banker JOHN SINDERS. The purchase price was USD$925 million.

However, just a few years on, and with the impact of the GFC, Investment Dar defaulted on a $100 million Sutuk (an Islamic investment bond), and had applied to the Kuwait government to change a specific piece of legislation to protect the company whilst it re-organized its finances.

Then Adeem Investments began selling its Aston Martin stock, along with other assets, in order for it to re-organize its funding and loan repayments.

In 2012 Italian private equity fund INVESTINDUSTRIAL acquired a 37.5% share, also investing $150 million in additional capital. It was also announced that Ulrich Bez would leave his post as CEO and become non-executive Chairman, and David Richards would play a larger role in the company’s plans, urging the Board to appoint Andy Palmer as CEO.

Between 2012 and 2014, Aston Martin suffered a large drop in sales - Palmer blaming the state of Aston Martin’s poor cash position on the fact that the DB9 had not sold as many cars as expected, having a dramatic effect on revenue and cash flow.

In 2014 Aston Martin suffered a pre-tax loss of USD$90 million, three times the loss in 2013, and sales declined to only 3500 cars. The company had to ask its investors for an additional USD$260 million to fund the development of new models. Pre-tax losses in 2016 increased by 27% to USD$211 million.

AMG V8 destined for Aston Martin
News of, and production of, new models boosted Aston Martin’s appeal and in 2017 the company sold in excess of 5000 cars posting a pre-tax profit of USD$113 million.

Back in 2014 Aston Martin had agreed a deal with Daimler AG, to acquire a 5% shareholding in the British Company, and also to supply AMG-produced engines to power the Vantage and DB11.

In 2018 sales plunged again, to 2296, and in the final three months it suffered a loss of USD$18 million. Revenues fell 11% to USD$325 million, and wholesale sales (to dealers) fell 17%, while retail sales fell 6% over the same period.

To better illustrate Aston Martin’s blood-curdling roller coaster ride, it racked up a USD$120 million loss over the first nine months of 2019, compared with a profit in the same period in 2018 of USD$31 million.

In addition new models literally flooded onto the market, such as the beautiful DB11 Superleggera and the Valkyrie - all of which soaked up millions in development funds.


Following its public float in October 2018, which valued the company at USD$5.6 billion, the company’s shares have plunged, and its valuation is now slightly over USD$1.5 billion.

It appears my cautionary warning to Ulrich Bez in 2000 was prescient, but it wasn’t a risky prediction.

This scenario set up the opportunity for Lawrence Stroll and his buddies to pony up enough dosh to take a controlling interest in Aston Martin. Stroll maintains that his motor industry experience, plus his skill at ‘revitalising and improving global brands’ is just what the carmaker needs.

We’ll see. Watch this space.

ASTON MARTIN FORMULA ONE – FROM ONE MONEY PIT TO ANOTHER

Okay, so Lawrence Stroll has announced to the staff at Racing Point F1 (nee Force India) that their jobs are safe, because in 2021, Racing Point F1 will become Aston Martin F1. No changes for this year, but with new livery and new owners, the formula one team is headed for success from next year. Oh yeah?

If independent carmakers represent a money pit for investors, let’s take a look at a Formula One team – say Racing Point, or Force India, or whatever….

In 2010 I was interviewing Vijay Mallya, then owner of the Force India team which he acquired in 2007 for USD$100 million. At the time I was impressed with the Indian billionaire, and his corporate empire, which he inherited from his father. I proffered that old saying “How do you make a small fortune in motor racing? Start with a big one.”

Mallya replied that his global empire generated such large revenues that this wouldn’t happen. History tells a different story, and nothing illustrates this better than tracing the chequered history of this team from its inception as Jordan F1.

Irishman Eddie Jordan’s eponymous F1 team debuted in 1991, but it finally went broke in 2005. It promised to be a success story, winning four Grands Prix, two of them in the 1999 season. Jordan F1 was bought by the Midland Group in 2006 for USD$60 million, but after a lacklustre year, it was sold to Dutch sportscar maker Spyker Cars for USD$106 million. That deal barely lasted a year.

One Team of Many Colours
From top left: Jordan; Midland; Spyker; Force India; Racing Point; Aston Martin 2021


In 2007 along comes Indian billionaire Mallya and businessman Michiel Mol, who paid Spyker USD$100 million. Force India won its first podium place in 2009 when Giancarlo Fisichella finished second at Spa.

In following years its number one driver, and major financial donor, Sergio Perez, scored podiums in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2018. Since acquiring Mercedes-Benz engines, the team has improved year on year, but such improvement costs money.

Mallya became known for his lavish parties, and also spending big on facilities for the F1 team. Then came his undoing. His Kingfisher Airlines went bankrupt, then Kingfisher Beer sales flagged, then his liquor division (built from scratch by his father) began to lose money big time. As the cash cows ran dry, Mallya was forced into swapping money between divisions, to keep the wolf from the door, and the F1 team continuing to appear on the grid.

But, it was not only not enough, much of his double-dealing had caught the eye of the Indian financial regulators.

Diageo, the global drinks company, stepped in and bought Mallya’s United Brewing – and basically his father’s empire had been pissed away, on parties and formula one.

Then Mallya suffered troubles of a more personal nature. The Indian government issued a warrant for his arrest in 2017 on fraud charges. He holed up somewhere in Europe, but the next time he stepped onto English soil, in 2018, the UK government honoured the Indian government’s request for extradition and Mallya returned to his home country to face the music.

In his final remarks on Force India’s participation in formula one, Mallya said they had enjoyed ten good years, and steady improvement. Maybe so, but when there’s no money in the bottom of the barrel, you’re toast.

In 2018, enter Lawrence Stroll and his consortium of investors, which acquired all of Force India’s assets for USD$117 million, renaming it Racing Point F1, and Stroll’s son, Lance, swapped from the Williams F1 team to become number two driver to Sergio Perez.

If Sergio Perez takes his toys and leaves, this F1 team will struggle to make up the enormous sponsorship Perez brings with him from Mexico, simply adding to the financial pressure to keep the team on the grid.

Racing Point may well have a name and livery change to Aston Martin F1 in 2021, but the sportscar maker will not be injecting cash, just its image. Will that be enough?

John Crawford

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

HOT NEWS! ASTON MARTIN GETS A NEW OWNER, AND A FORMULA ONE TEAM by John Crawford

Two established brands, two new identities, and the money-go-round puts the automotive world in a spin.

Aston Martin has been acquired by a consortium led by Lawrence Stroll (left).

And, overnight, Stroll announced that Aston Martin will have its own F1 team.

Hopefully Stroll and his consortium can dig Aston Martin out of the financial shit it has placed itself.

Lawrence Stroll’s consortium raised emergency funding of £500 million to support the ailing sports car manufacturer, which includes £182 million from Stroll himself.

The current chairman Penny Hughes will step down, and Lawrence Stroll will become executive chairman of Aston Martin Lagonda.

Stroll said: “I, and my partners, firmly believe that Aston Martin is one of the great global luxury car brands. I believe that this combination of capital, and my experience of both the motor industry and building highly successful global brands will mean that, over time, we fulfil Aston Martin Lagonda’s potential.”


And ‘blending’ his investments, Stroll announced to the Racing Point F1 staff at Silverstone that Racing Point F1 (nee Force India) would be re-branded Aston Martin F1 from 2021. Nothing changes for this year.


No word yet on the future of Aston Martin’s current CEO, Dr. Andy Palmer, or any significant changes to the structure of the company. In 2019 Aston Martin was forced to borrow £120 million at a huge interest rate, to inject capital into the company following “difficult trading conditions”.

Currently, dealers are not ordering new cars, but quitting their existing stock, which has seriously affected Aston Martin’s cash flow and it’s building up stock ‘at grass’. Palmer recently told the UK media that he ordered a massive cut in production (to stop further build-up of unsold cars).

However, London analysts say the major issue with Aston Martin’s finances has been its investment in the DBX crossover, and the subsequent decision to open a dedicated factory for the DBX in St. Athens, 15 miles south of Cardiff in South Wales.

Aston Martin's dedicated DBX factory in St. Athens, Wales

Its current 300 strong work force will build up to 600 to deliver the new model. All of which puts further pressure on the company’s balance sheet. Especially servicing the new debt at high interest rates!

CEO Palmer announced a week ago that the company had slashed its sales forecast for 2020 from 7300 to 6500, but that’s simply a veiled message to the markets that it’s taking its woes seriously. However, in actual fact the ‘real’ production numbers for this year will fall further. I suggest that the restructured forecast was simply a move to stop the analysts digging further into the company’s problems, until the new consortium deal could be put in place.

No word yet on the complicated problem surrounding the engines which Aston Martin F1 will employ next year. Currently Racing Point F1 is a Mercedes-Benz customer.
Racing Point's Lawrence Stroll with Mercedes F1's Toto Wolff

Of course, this could always be explained by the fact that Daimler Benz AG already has a 5% stake in Aston Martin, and Aston Martin is also a Mercedes-Benz customer, using its AMG V8 to power the Aston Martin Vantage sports coupe.


I forecast that within the not-too-distant future we will see Daimler Benz AG increase its holdings in Aston Martin – much in the same way VWAG is now the owner of Bentley Motors.


Aston Martin is one of the few remaing independent car firms left in Britain, but I believe that independence cannot last.

John Crawford

Sunday, February 9, 2020

ASTON MARTIN -SOME GOOD NEWS by John Crawford

According to Aston Martin, last Friday, the new DBX SUV is racing off the shelves.




The company says it has a name against every single production car as of this weekend. There has been intense customer interest since the first production model appeared and the orders are rolling in.



This is great news for the Gaydon-based company and its investors. As I pointed out last week Aston Martin shares have been doing a deep dive since the public listing, and despite new models, new platforms, new engines and the usual luxury finishes, it almost seems like the potential DBX buyers have just been waiting in the wings for the DBX to debut.



I would hate to see this legendary British badge disappear. After my good friend Dr. Ulrich Bez rescured it from obscurity (the first time) in the early 2000s, it seemed the company could do no wrong, with its new DB, Vantage, Volante and Valkyrie models, plus a healthy dose of image building from Aston Martin Racing. Then, the company balance sheet 'wobbled' again due to the massive investments needed for Aston Martin to keep up with its competition.



In my opinion, Creative Director Marek Reichman has done a fantastic job re-imaginging the design and style of the new sports cars, but it's a segment with intense competitive pressure, so the DBX sales boost couldn't have come at a better time.

It's funny, but after spending close to 20 years of my automotive industry career helping to 'save' Jaguar time and again, it looks like dejá vue all over again for Aston Martin.

John Crawford

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

EXCLUSIVE - BRIAN GUSH TALKS BENTLEY AND BATHURST with John Crawford

Picture this – it’s about supper time, 6 o’clock, Saturday night, in the frigid cold of the pretty English village of Congleton, in Cheshire.

Brian Gush, formerly Head of Bentley Motorsport (who retired last year) is settling down in his sofa, about to while away the next 12 Hours, with eyes and ears glued to the TV.
Roughly 17,500 km away, and 11 hours ahead on the Mount Panorama circuit at Bathurst in Australia, it’s just as dark as it is in Britain with a little early morning chill, and some of the world’s most famous brands are blasting off to battle out the 2020 Liqui-Moly 12 Hour Race.
(Photo: Ray Berghouse, Chevron Publishing)
For the first time since 2015, Brian is not sitting in the ‘bunker’ at the back of the Bentley pit garlanded with a headset and his credentials on a lanyard.
Bentley 'Bunker' 2019 Liqui-Moly 12 Hour Race
Last year, I hung my head inside the ‘bunker’ and we waved at each other during a very gruelling race for the Bentley Boys, when they just missed a podium spot. I was slumming around the paddock, while Brian was very busy working on race strategy and keeping up morale. I have huge regard and respect for his skills, astute judgement and determination.
I’ve been very fortunate to know Brian for a while, seeing as we both joined Bentley Motors in 1999. He came from Volkswagen South Africa, and was charged with chassis and powertrain development of new Bentleys; whilst I flew in from Australia and was challenged by the task of trying to ‘create’ an image for Bentley in the USA.
In 2000, when Bentley was given the go-ahead by the VWAG Board in Wolfsburg, to have a crack at winning Le Mans, Brian Gush was given a dream job, full of challenges and frustration, but also promising satisfaction beyond belief, if the dream came true.
It did - on a Sunday afternoon in June 2003 Bentley #7 flashed across the finish line winning the prestigious Vingt Quatre Heures du Mans.

The Director of Motorsport was grinning from ear to ear, and rightly so, because the previous three years had been a very steep learning curve.
Fast forward to 2013, and Bentley is once again back at the track, this time with the Bentley Continental GT coupe, participating in the Blancpain Series for GT3 cars.
Brian Gush is directing the action from the ‘bunker’, along with M-Sport chief, Malcolm Wilson on the pit wall, managing the actual racing bit.
Knowledgable motor racing fans around the world looked on in disbelief. Did Bentley really believe it could take a 2994kg grand touring coupe, with its carpeted, walnut and leather interior and race competitively against almost purpose-built brands like Aston Martin, Audi, McLaren and Porsche? Well, Brian’s resolute and uncompromising slim down delivered a car weight of just 1300kg, putting the Continental GT right in the ballpark.
So, let’s start at the beginning. On Monday night in Australia 24 hours after Bentley’s fantastic win in the 12 Hour, I called Brian at home so we could discuss how you get from challenger to winner, and the rocky road Bentley and M-Sport traversed.....
JC: Brian, what were the critical things you learned in the years before this year’s fabulous victory?
BG: The two most important elements were, first, to be in with a chance you have to be on the ‘Lead Lap’ all the time; and second impress on the drivers that they have to stay away from the walls, and watch out for track debris.
(Photo: Ray Berghouse, Chevron Publishing)

Now, that may sound obvious, but the first element involves a number of equally important things. Let me say unequivocally, that qualifying performance means nothing. For those who thrash around trying to get into the Top Ten, it’s all about ego and glory. Look at this year, the #8 car started from pit lane and managed to work its way up to lead the race; and the winning car started from eleventh on the grid!
Next, the drivers need to know when to ‘push’ and when not to. The first year we set a sizzling pace early in the race, and found ourselves running out of brakes, and also damaging wheel bearings.
2015 Liqui-Moly 12 Hour Race
Matt Bell was leading the race and we were on track for a win, but it didn’t happen, because we pushed out at the wrong time.
Then you need to be canny when the Safety Car appears, because you may have built up a great margin, only to lose it after several slower laps behind the pace car.
For example this year Bentley took advantage of yellow flags to change brakes, which gave them a huge advantage. Also, their strategy included ‘short fuelling’, but I’ll talk more about strategy in a minute.
JC: If you learned some great tips, what about the drivers?
BG: Ha, ha. They learned a lot from the Aussie drivers! God, they’re aggressive, but they are also bloody good around the mountain. It’s such a unique track, the locals get to know it really well, and our boys must watch and observe to see where are the good overtaking spots, and when to be careful.
Local boy Matt Campbell winning in 2019
Our guys race on some classic circuits in Europe, but Bathurst requires, no, demands total concentration for every lap, for the whole duration of your stint behind the wheel. You cannot afford to be on autopilot, following the guy in front.
As I said before, this track has these bloody solid walls most of the way, and if you ‘kiss’ those walls too often you are asking for a puncture.

Also, you have to keep a sharp eye on track debris, because running over a small piece of carbon fibre can shoot you down in a flash.
JC: On the subject of circuits, would it be true that the only really similar track challenge would be the Nurburgring?
BG: Probably, if only because it’s a long lap and there’s a lot to remember to ensure consistency, and also because of the dramatic changes in terrain, just like Bathurst. I think once you’ve, more or less, mastered Bathurst, there’s not much in the way of new tracks that you can’t face. It’s a great training ground, especially for the young guys.
(Photo: Ray Berghouse, Chevron Publishing)


JC: Bentley’s winning team, Maxime Soulet (Belgium), Jules Gounon (France) and Jordan Pepper (South Africa) gave me the impression that they were a really solid trio.

They appeared to genuinely care about handing over a good car, and keeping the end game front of mind.
BG: Correct. They were carefully chosen last year, and ‘gel’ as a team, and have proven to have the qualities team managers dream about. This year, they truly worked as one.
JC: You talked about strategy earlier, what did you do differently this year?
BG: This year, as last year, Bentley had Christophe Besse completely in charge of race strategy. M-Sport worked with him previously, in the Blancpain Series; but he is extraordinarily experienced.
Christophe Besse (left)
He started with Prost F1 in 1998, and has been Director of Citroen’s WRC exploits, plus Le Mans strategist for both Peugeot and Porsche, and also Nissan’s Formula E team.
JC: Do you think that strategy was a key element in this year’s win?
BG: Absolutely, without a doubt. It was Christophe who pushes ‘Short Fuelling’; meaning every time the opportunity came, they topped up, to maintain track position. That takes a lot of pressure off the drivers when they are involved in tight racing among close competition.
Christophe also managed our brake change opportunities, and draws up the race plans well before the starting flag falls. 
Given his extensive Le Mans experience, he’s also a good guy to have on board whenever you have a Safety Car period. His input is invaluable.
JC: I guess, relieved of balancing the strategic concerns, that allows the team to concentrate just on the condition of the cars?
BG: Yes, they have over 200 streams of data coming in, so we know the condition of dampers, oil pressure, water temperature, tyres etc., but really, all the top teams have this information flow.
JC: So even though you’re not actually behind the wheel, you feel ‘involved’ as if you were out on the track? What about the drivers, what data do they see?
BG: That’s easy – they get revs, gear position and tyre pressures. That’s it. That’s all they need to do the job. It lets them concentrate on staying away from walls, debris and other cars.

JC: Brian, will you miss it?
BG: John, it is such an intense job, and you are so deeply embedded in every single aspect of the pre-race preparation, the strategic considerations, the mental state of the drivers, the status of the competition and not to mention the race itself, quite frankly, after leading the Le Mans effort, and the GT3 series, I am ready to have my weekends off.
But, I will definitely miss Bathurst.

John Crawford